Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull's art selection showcases Indigenous and female artists

Michael Cook, Majority Rule (Parliament), 2014 (detail) Photo: Michael Cook
Michael Cook, Majority Rule (Parliament), 2014 (detail) Photo: Michael Cook
Some of the artworks in the dining room at The Lodge, including Emily Kame Kngwarreye's, <i>Yam awely</i>, (left). Photo: Andrew Meares

Some of the artworks in the dining room at The Lodge, including Emily Kame Kngwarreye's, Yam awely, (left). Photo: Andrew Meares

Lucy Turnbull in the drawing room at The Lodge. Photo: Andrew Meares

Lucy Turnbull in the drawing room at The Lodge. Photo: Andrew Meares

A symbol of the lack of Indigenous representation in Australian politics hangs on the walls of Malcolm Turnbull's Parliament House office.

One of more than 50 artworks chosen by Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull for the prime minister's suite and their official residences, it is Majority Rule (Parliament) by award-winning Indigenous artist Michael Cook.

Part of a series of photographs designed to demonstrate the lack of Indigenous faces in Australian public life, the work shows the Aboriginal flag flying above Old Parliament House and what appears like more than 20 Indigenous parliamentarians.

But the image, and an accompanying series by Mr Cook, show just one man, calling on the viewer to consider under-representation at a time when just five MPs of Indigenous heritage sit in Parliament.

Mr and Mrs Turnbull's choices from the collections of the National Gallery of Australia and Parliament House include works by Archibald Prize winners, a range of leading Indigenous artists and some of the biggest names of Australian art.

Picking artworks for The Lodge and Kirribilli House is a rare privilege enjoyed by the prime minister. One leading critic says the Turnbull's selection has replaced more conservative choices displayed by former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Inside the Prime Minister's suite, works include Charles Blackman's Rabbit Tea Party, part of his iconic Alice in Wonderland series; John Brack's The pros and Cons hangs alongside a Fred Williams landscape and an Arthur Streeton pastoral scene.

Mrs Turnbull's choices of Indigenous art for The Lodge include works by Naata Nungurrayi and Rover Thomas, alongside works by Russell Drysdale and Sidney Nolan.

Margaret Olley, Margaret Preston and Arthur Boyd take prominence at Sydney's Kirribilli House.

The Turnbulls are noted art collectors, and their personal collection includes works by leading Australian and international names including Susan Norrie, Bill Henson and Tracey Emin.

Mr Turnbull's office also includes a number of pieces from his personal collection.

Alongside a painting by Mr Turnbull's grandmother is a large John Olsen, Sydney Seaport Table, commissioned by the Turnbulls in 1997 and it has featured in each of his parliamentary offices.

Australian National University emeritus professor Sasha Grishin said the Turnbull's selections from the official collection were impressive.

"When the art requests for the Abbott Lodge and prime ministerial offices came through they were treated with considerable derision – it was a remarkably poor and conservative selection," he said.

"In the case of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull it is a very different matter – with gems picked out of the Parliamentary art collection, such as the major Rosalie Gascoigne and Lloyd Rees, plus a wide selection of work by Indigenous artists."

Professor Grishin praised selections from the gallery's public collection.

"It is an open secret that the works were selected by the prime minister's chief art advisor – his wife Lucy Turnbull – on her several trips to the National Gallery, who of course is the niece of the famous Australian art critic, Robert Hughes.

"Many of the works selected are well-known, such as the major Emily Kame Kngwarreye, a key painting by John Brack, a couple of major John Glovers, a couple of reasonable Margaret Prestons, an important Charles Blackman, a reasonable Fred Williams, a couple of Arthur Boyds and a pretty Sidney Nolan."

Not all the choices were well received, however.

"Of the work selected, only one is an absolute dud, a messy and derivative oil painting titled Mineshafts, 1963, painted by uncle Robert Hughes," Professor Grishin said.

This story Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull's art selection showcases Indigenous and female artists first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.